St. Ambrose student graduates after two decades of attending college

Local News

Sarah Jane Barker, 41, of Bettendorf, proudly stands with her family while holding her diploma from St. Ambrose University after nearly 22 years of being a college student. (Palak Barmaiya,

After nearly 22 years, 41-year-old Sarah Jane Barker’s dreams came true when she walked across the stage of the RiverCenter in Davenport on Saturday, December 14 to receive her Bachelor of Arts in Writing from St. Ambrose University during their 2019 Winter Commencement Ceremony.

Barker had aspirations of furthering her education since the age of 18, but unlike typical college students, her journey to get there was quite different.

In 1996, 17-year-old Barker was involved in an automobile accident on the way to the Mississippi Valley Fair. Although Barker was wearing her seatbelt, she suffered a traumatic brain injury and has dealt with mobility and memory issues ever since. However, that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her goal of being a college graduate.

“I always told myself, ‘I’m going to do this,”’ Barker said. “It may take a little longer, but I am going to do this. I never was going to let anyone tell me you’re not going to do it.”

Barker first attended Scott Community College to earn her associate’s degree. In the fall of 2009, she enrolled at St. Ambrose University, pursuing her bachelor’s degree by taking one course each semester. Barker saved her most challenging class for last: a 1-credit Tai Chi course that fulfilled an important St. Ambrose University general education requirement.

“I’m happy… I’m ecstatic. It’s been a long time coming, but I did it. I persevered,” said Barker shortly after receiving her diploma among 224 students. “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. Right now, my glass is half full.”

Barker has already put her degree to work by writing a memoir. With just one chapter left to go, Sarah is ending one adventure and beginning a new one: life as a college graduate.

To hear more about Barker’s educational journey, check out St. Ambrose University’s video “Two Decades to Graduation: The Sarah Barker Story.”

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